Cubs and David Price look like a perfect fit in free agency


Cubs and David Price look like a perfect fit in free agency

DETROIT – Can the Cubs afford a David Price megadeal?

That became the biggest question walking away from Price’s locker inside the home clubhouse at Comerica Park, because otherwise the Detroit Tigers left-hander sounds like a perfect fit.

Price stood there with a group of Chicago reporters on Wednesday afternoon and raved about the freewheeling style Joe Maddon developed while managing the Tampa Bay Rays.

Price explained his close relationship with Derek Johnson, the minor-league pitching coordinator who recruited him to Vanderbilt University and helped him blossom into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft.

Price even acknowledged the same sense of history and ego that appealed to Jon Lester when he chose the Cubs and signed a six-year, $155 million contract last December.

“It’s very special, absolutely,” Price said. “There’s probably not another city that’s dying for a World Series more than Chicago. I think everybody would probably agree with me on that. That’s special. It’s absolutely special. But it would be very special if we won here as well.

“Obviously, winning a World Series is special anywhere you play, but that would be pretty crazy.”

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Price, who will turn 30 this summer, is already making almost $20 million in his final year of arbitration. The Cubs now have a $120 million payroll that’s inflated by the $20 million leftover from losing the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, which helped finance the Lester deal.

Where do the Cubs go from here? Maybe the TV megadeal comes sooner rather than later and the Wrigley Field renovations start producing incremental revenues. It all depends on how creative the Ricketts family, Crane Kenney’s business operations department and Theo Epstein’s front office can get next winter.

Price is a smart guy who understood the line of questioning, diplomatically bringing certain answers back to Detroit, comparing Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to Maddon and saying his camp never broke off negotiations in spring training.

But just fill in the blanks to Price’s response when asked what will be important to him when he decides what he wants to do for the rest of his career.

Imagine Price, Lester and Jake Arrieta at the top of the rotation next year and a lineup anchored by Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant through the 2021 season. Picture one of those postgame dance parties at Wrigley Field.

“I want to win,” Price said. “I think winning sets a precedent over everything else. That’s something I want to do. I want to do it now, and I want to be able to do it for a long time.

“Obviously, you want to be able to have fun. You want a loose clubhouse, like we had in Tampa, and like we have here. You got to be able to look forward to coming to the field every day.”

As a September call-up in 2008, Price wound up pitching out of the bullpen for the Rays team that went to the World Series. He emerged as the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in 2012. He can see what the Cubs are building now.

“They’re very young,” Price said. “They have a lot of guys they’re going to be able to control for a long time. It’s very similar to when I first came up with Tampa, just a bunch of young guys going out there and having fun. That’s what it’s about. Obviously, winning is what it’s about, but you got to be able to have fun.

“To have that kind of core group of guys that you have a chance to be there with for a long time – that always makes it more special.”

[MORE: Cubs keeping Kyle Schwarber out of the DH picture]

Maddon doesn’t know how much his relationship with Price will matter in free agency, but the manager believes Chicago will sell itself.

“How could you not want to go there?” Maddon said. “Unique city, one of the best in the world, not just in our country. A ballpark that truly embodies, indicates or demonstrates the history of baseball in one little confined area: The Friendly Confines.

“It’s just an incredible place to play, to go to work every day. The fan base is extremely loyal and supportive. A young team with a really nice nucleus building for the future. There are so many positives – the front office, the ownership.

“I’m not saying anything that anybody else doesn’t already know about. This is just stating the obvious – Captain Obvious right now – this is what we got going on.”

The Tigers took care of another Cy Young Award winner (Justin Verlander) and locked up an MVP winner (Miguel Cabrera), committing more than $470 million to those two superstars. But Price sounds willing to see what else is out there.

“I’m always prepared for a change,” Price said. “You don’t want to get blindsided in this game, because that’s never any fun. You got to be prepared for it, even if it doesn’t happen. You still have to be prepared for that. I’m always prepared.”

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.